Paratriathlon, which made its debut in the Paralympics at Rio 2016, might seem a highly individual sport, but, for Australia’s elite team of eight, a strong sense of teamwork and togetherness has been built, helping create a unit capable of achieving big things this weekend in Tokyo.
The Tokyo 2020 Para-triathlon competition starts on Saturday with defending gold medallist Katie Kelly (with guide Briarna Silk) and Games debutant Jono Goerlach (with guide Dave Mainwaring) in action in the PT Vision Impaired Class followed on Sunday by the wheelchair athletes, Nic Beveridge returning from Rio and joined by Games newcomers, Lauren Parker and Emily Tapp – both World Champions – and David Bryant making his debut in the PTS5 Class (mild impairments).
Dan Atkins, Head Coach at Triathlon Australia’s National Performance Centre on the Gold Coast, revealed the plan devised for a team he describes as “a fantastic group of humans.”
“Myself and Danielle Stefano, the other coach on our team here, got together beforehand and said that we wanted to make sure that this team had a real good culture and a real good feel about it,” Atkins said as he and Stefano put together their finishing touches for this weekend’s racing.
“We wanted them to go into the Games relaxed, positive, confident, but most importantly to feel like they are a team. It’s been a couple of years in the making. They’re a fantastic group of humans, they’ve all got a story and they all feel really privileged to be here as much as I do.”
Final preparations have included the all-important familiarisation session, with Atkins attaching a camera to a bike so the coaches get an idea of the course.
“It’s no different to Formula 1 racing, when you’re in qualifying and it’s all about getting your tyres right and planning their best lines on the course, where there are lots of opportunities to either try and increase your lead or catch up.“
Here Atkins provides his guide to our Para-triathlon team as they prepare to take on the world.
PTVI (Vision Impaired Class)
Saturday, August 28: 8.30am (AEST)
Katie Kelly: “Katie’s the defending champion and probably the most calm and relaxed I’ve seen her for about the last eight months. Obviously there’s a real high expectation going in as the reigning champion and that isn’t lost on her. The pressure had gotten to her at times in the last year. But it was an opportunity for us to work on some things and really hone in on some areas that I felt we needed to. It also gave us another year with her guide Briarna Silk. Their partnership is outstanding now. The coaching is divided into three parts: I work with Bri privately, I work with Katie privately, then I work with them as a team, so it’s a really great dynamic. They’re tracking really really well. I’m extremely excited…they’ll be in the hunt.”
Jonathan Goerlach: “Jono came through our Talent Transfer talent identification program back in 2012. So he’s been a real mainstay of the team. This is his first Games, as it’s the first time PTVI for the men has been included, so he’s had to wait a long time. His patience and resilience is amazing. His partnership with (guide) Dave Mainwaring and their coach Peter Clifford, who is managing both David and Jono together is a real key. They’ve done a lot of sessions together over the last three months that created this bond. Dave’s a very capable athlete in his own right. So the two of them together, I’m really hoping they can come up under the radar and do some damage.”
PTWC (Wheelchair Class)
Sunday, August 29: 6:30am (AEST)
Nic Beveridge: “Nic’s another five years wiser in the sport since he competed in Rio. He’s got experience on his side and he knows what it feels like to be here. When I saw Nic the other day, he looked in really good shape. I coached Nic for a long time and you sort of know if your athlete’s in good shape or not, and I think Danielle’s done a wonderful job to get him in shape.”
Lauren Parker: “Lauren is the reigning World Champion. She’s a fierce competitor who’s been focusing on this for the last two years. She only came into the sport in 2018 after a tragic training accident, but the way she’s gone about her job is remarkable. As her coach I’ve seen a huge improvement, especially in the last 12 months. She did have a bit of a setback in April this year where she was hospitalised for almost eight weeks. I think that’ll be a blessing in disguise, I think it was a sign telling us we had to slow down. She’s gone from being an able bodied Ironman triathlete – and a very, very capable one on a really good trajectory as an elite athlete – then losing all movement in her legs and now she’s doing it all on her arms, which is absolutely phenomenal.”
Emily Tapp: “The biggest thing for Emily is her experience. She’s a two-time World Champion and, to me, I saw her do one of the most remarkable things I’ve ever seen in Australia’s triathlon history – Olympic or in the Para-space. She was in Yokohama, where she was one of the last to finish and then the very next race she went in, in June, she won in Montreal. I always look at people like that, those who silently go about their work, they’re a World Champion and they’ve done things like they’ve done – anything’s absolutely possible. Again, high hopes for Emily to do a really good job for Australia.”
PTS5 CLASS (Mild impairment)
Sunday, August 29: 8.30am (AEST)
David Bryant: “Dave was born with a club foot in his right leg which sees him compete with a muscle mass differential of approximately 17 percent less than that of his left leg. He’s going to be one of those athletes I’m going to call ‘a disrupter’. He is going to disrupt the field. He hasn’t been in this space for that long really internationally, but the world knows he’s there. The current World Champion Stefan Daniel is outstanding and I don’t think he’s been beaten in a long time. He won the gold medal in Rio and he always seems to lift the bar. But now he’s scared – Dave’s the hunter and he’s the hunted. I have high hopes for Dave to be among the guys who scares the hell out of him. Danielle Stefano, Dave’s coach, has done a wonderful job managing him, seeing she is in Victoria and Dave’s been in WA.”
Watch the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games live and free on Seven and 7plus from August 24 – September 5.